A network of supportive people can help you deal with a long-term illness such as ulcerative colitis. But a simple thing like hanging out with friends may seem like a big challenge, given the embarrassment and stress your UC symptoms can cause. And what about intimacy?
Fortunately, even when you aren't feeling well, you can still maintain rewarding and loving relationships.
Let Your Friends In
Megan Starshak was 18 and headed to college when she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. "I was still learning about the disease and didn't know what to tell others," says Starshak, who is now 29. As a result, she spent a lot of nights at home while her friends grew frustrated that she never seemed to want to do anything fun.
"People would say, 'Join us when you feel better.' It was like they thought I had a cold. They didn't understand that I was dealing with a chronic illness," she says. That's why it's important to educate at least a few close friends about your condition.
"It's good to have someone in your corner who can tell others, 'Look, Megan has a serious illness, and today she's not feeling well,'" says gastroenterologist Aline Charabaty, MD.
And while you don't want to burden your friends, it's always nice to have someone willing to give up an occasional night out in order to spend time with you when you need it. "Looking back on my college days, I wish that I had been more open and let people in on what I was going through," Starshak says.
Deal With Dating Jitters
It's up to you whether you want to make your digestive problems a topic for your first date. But you shouldn't wait too long to bring it up.
"Your date may feel confused and insecure if he doesn't know what's going on, and you're canceling engagements because you don't feel well. Or you're distracted when you're together because you're concerned about having a mishap," Charabaty says.
Digestive problems may not be sexy, but a medical condition like ulcerative colitis is not something to be ashamed of either. Keeping a sense of humor can help, Starshak says.
"I could tell my dates which stores or restaurants had the cleanest bathrooms and which places to avoid," she says. "It may sound like a weird conversation, but it gave them a glimpse into the seriousness of my problem ('Hey, she really does have to use the bathroom a lot!'), without me having to go into too much graphic detail."
When Starshak and her boyfriend started dating 6 years ago, she used a fundraiser for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) as an icebreaker. "I was biking in a charity ride, so I gave him a CCFA brochure and told him, 'I'm raising money for this organization because I have colitis,'" Starshak recalls. The information in the brochure, including the link to CCFA's web site, gave him a background to start asking questions.